Why this story matters:
I met Oliver Ivanovic almost a decade ago in Mitrovica, while writing a series of stories about newly independent Kosovo. We met in a cafe right on the banks of the river Ibar, separating Mitrovica between the Albanian south and the Serb-dominated north. At the time, he was one of the few politicians in Kosovo open to dialogue about how Serbs and Albanians could live together in Kosovo -- a necessity, he used to say, unlike others.
He struck me as brilliant when we met. So much so that, with each sentence he said, I became painfully aware of the things he was keeping from me. Years later, an international court convicted him of war crimes against Albanians (an appeals court later ordered a retrial).
In a war-bruised country like Kosovo, reality is messy like that. In the years since I met him -- and despite his conviction -- Ivanovic built up his reputation as a moderate. He was supposedly disliked by both Serbs and Albanians, not in the least because he was thought to be open to compromise.
The timing of his death is no accident.
Details from the story:
- Oliver Ivanovic, leader of Kosovar Serb party SDP Citizens Initiative, died Tuesday after being shot repeatedly from a moving car while he was in front of his party's headquarters in Mitrovica.
- In 2016, Ivanovic was sentenced to nine years in jail for war crimes against Albanians by an EULEX court. An appeal court later ordered a retrial.
- Following his death, 'normalization' talks between Serbia and Kosovo, which had just started in Brussels and are necessary if either of the countries is to join the European Union, were stopped.
- Ivanovic was a popular politician who once came close to becoming the mayor of North Mitrovica. He was opposing Lista Srpska, the most popular party in the Serb-dominated north of the city which has strong links to Belgrade.